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You’d be forgiven for thinking sometimes there’s only one way to do things; certain practices are so common, they’re just accepted as ‘how it is’ and we don’t give a lot of thought as to whether or not it’s best. This thinking is very prevalent in our food and drink; we just accept that bread comes from wheat, beer comes from barley and steak comes from cows.
In many cases, it’s due to location. Certain plants grow well in some countries, making them cheap and plentiful. Problems can arise, however, if we rely on them too heavily; we know the best kind of diet is wide and varied. Increasing numbers of nutritionists are asking if our reliance on a few grains means we eat too much gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It’s currently hotly debated whether the rises in diagnoses for coeliac disease and gluten intolerances are due to over-exposure to gluten.
This is leading many people to look further afield for alternatives to the ‘wheat from bread, beer from barley’ thinking and one of the current favourites is buckwheat. Buckwheat is classed as an ‘Ancient Grain’, although in truth it’s not a grain at all. It’s also not a grass, so it isn’t related to wheat, despite what the name would have you believe! It’s more closely related to rhubarb than any of the other grasses and it’s naturally gluten free. While many discover buckwheat due to it being free from gluten, its popularity is continuing to rise outside of ‘gluten free’ recipes!
Buckwheat is fascinating and has been cultivated by humans for around the last 8,000 years or so. We call it an Ancient Grain, but the ‘grain’ pod is really the seed of the plant and it’s been used worldwide in exactly the same way as other grains for centuries. Buckwheat noodles are common throughout China, Korea and Tibet, while the Italians have buckwheat pasta and French galettes are buckwheat pancakes.
Obviously the reason why we’re such a fan of buckwheat is because it can be used to create beer just as you would with barley. The buckwheat ‘grains’ react with water (or liquor, to use the correct brewing term!) to produce a sugary mash that is used in fermentation. The great news is that because buckwheat is naturally gluten free, it’s suitable for everybody, whether they’re coeliac, gluten intolerant or just concerned about the amount of gluten in their diet and are looking for gluten free alternatives as part of a healthier lifestyle.
The best part of using buckwheat for beer is taste. Buckwheat is slightly bitter and quite strong, giving a different feel on the palate to barley. Most people who cook with buckwheat find that when it’s roasted, it smells like strong bread or hoppy beer! We’ve used it to great effect in our India Pale Ale, to provide a balance between the biscuit notes and the herbal, pine aroma whilst maintaining a full mouthfeel.
In using different ingredients, experimenting with different recipes and not just accepting it’s “the done thing”, you open yourself up to new flavours and new experiences. There’s been a lot of focus on gluten in our diet recently, but whether you’re coeliac, intolerant or you’re just concerned about how much ‘hidden gluten’ is in our food, the decision to cut down the amount you eat should never mean you can’t enjoy something delicious and well-crafted!